The Man Booker International–winning author of "Broken April" and "The Siege," Albania’s most renowned novelist, and perennial Nobel Prize contender Ismail Kadare explores three giants of world literature—Aeschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare—through the lens of resisting totalitarianism.
In isolationist Albania, which suffered under a Communist dictatorship for nearly half a century, classic global literature reached Ismail Kadare across centuries and borders—and set him free. The struggles of Hamlet, Dante, and Aeschylus’s tragic figures gave him an understanding of totalitarianism that shaped his novels. In these incisive critical essays informed by personal experience, Kadare provides powerful evidence that great literature is the enemy of dictatorship and imbues these timeless stories with powerful new meaning.
With eloquent prose and the narrative drive of a great mystery novel, Kadare renews our readings of the classics and lends them a distinctly Albanian tint. Like Mark Twain’s Mississippi River, Márquez’s Macondo, and Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Kadare’s Albania emerges as a microcosm of civilization; here, blood vengeance in mountain communities reaches the dramatic heights of Hamlet’s dilemma, funereal rites take on the air of Greek tragedy, and political repression gives life the feel of Dante’s nine circles of Hell.
Like Azar Nafisi’s "Reading Lolita in Tehran," "Essays on World Literature" casts reading itself as a daring act of resistance to artistic suppression. Kadare’s insights into the Western canon secure his own place within it.
“The Albanian author and perennial Nobel Prize candidate considers the roots and long influence of Aeschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare, especially in his homeland. Kadare, who won the inaugural Man Booker International Prize in 2005, discusses the three authors through the filter of totalitarianism, particularly Albania’s oppression under a communist regime and the Kanun, a longtime legal code that effectively endorsed blood feuds…. Kadare effectively makes the case for their universality.... [A]s windows into his own fiction, [the essays] show that he perceives his favorite themes—among them, oppression, loss, revenge—as part of a through-line that runs back to antiquity. A loose but informed and passionate study of why classic authors endure.”
About the author:
Ismail Kadare is Albania’s best known novelist, whose name is mentioned annually in discussions of the Nobel Prize. He won the inaugural Man Booker International Prize in 2005; in 2009 he received the Príncipe de Asturias de las Letras, Spain’s most prestigious literary award, and in 2015 he won the Jerusalem Prize. In 2016 he was named a Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur. James Wood has written of his work, "Kadare is inevitably likened to Orwell and Kundera, but he is a far deeper ironist than the first, and a better storyteller than the second.
About the translator:
Ani Kokobobo is Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Kansas where she teaches Russian literature and culture. Her articles on nineteenth-century Russian literature and culture have appeared in Tolstoy Studies Journal, Slavic Review, Russian Review, and several collections. Last summer, she published an edited volume: Russian Writers and the Fin de Siècle – The Twilight of Realism (Cambridge University Press, 2015). This year, she has a monograph forthcoming, Russian Grotesque Realism: The Great Reforms and Gentry Decline (Ohio State University Press, 2017), as well as another edited volume, Beyond Moscow: Reading Russia’s Regional Identities and Initiatives (Routledge, 2017). She is presently at work on a project about moral gray zones in Russian and Soviet prison narratives.